Short Story: Even Fools

Cracked asphalt rose to plateaus, forming sheer drops to insects too malformed to see their repetition on the massive scales beyond. Humans were no different. Only their scale was. They did all the same foolish things, made all the same foolish mistakes.

Difference was, intellect had kept them alive long enough to thwart death’s equalizing grasp.

Insects didn’t have that advantage, but they were no more in control of that cascade of datum known as Time than Humans, either. Time was ever the dictator. This go-round, it dictated with age went grace.

The elderly were no longer the Olympians. It was the youth. Problem was, in a world of asphalt and suffocated atmo, even the most vibrant soul could not compete. Worst of all, the elder non-competitives were deluding themselves into believing things weren’t as bad as they’d made them.

But they were. And they were only getting worse.

An ant at the apex of one plateau peered over the edge to see another at its base. In deference to the similar scene playing out a hundred miles west, and one more elevated, the man at the base of the cliff wasn’t pumping his antennae in curiosity. He was dead.

Scale mattered, even if size didn’t.

The man that pushed him was staring into the distance, sun still beating on him from its late-noon arc as if nothing’d happened.

But it had.

He’d pushed him. That was supposed to be the end of it but the scream came. Piercing. Shrill. Echoing in the nothingness far longer than he’d have liked or expected. Then, the distant crack. Nothingness again.

Then it was over– supposed to be, anyhow. He slugged the rest of the beer, threw it into the gorge.

That was when it hit him. Later, the Sheriff guessed that was how it happened too. He explained it to a deputy, “Crime of passion.’ People don’t get what it means. Think passion’s all about fucking,” he as much as flopped down as a man with a rod in his spine could.

“What it really means is, ‘people too fuckin’ stupid to look at the bigger picture.’ History’s rife with it. Humans get caught up in the mob mentality, their momentary fury, and fuck things up. Only reason a group can do it’s ‘cause the individual’s capable. Just amplifies it from there.”

The Deputy then asked, “That why you became a Sheriff, Sheriff?”

“Nah, got tired of getting arrested,” He slugged back a shot of coffee. “The problem nowadays, everyone’s afraid to do anything for themselves. Right or wrong.”

The Deputy’s face was small, “Mind if I ask why you kept gettin’ arrested, Sheriff?”

He sparked a joint, “Possession.”

The Deputy laughed.

The night would be quiet, as with all others. Nothing happened at night in the desert. Night was for the warm-blooded, those forced to warm their own for the better of all such as the Sheriff. The next few hours would be spent processing paper-work, filling in forms.

“He ever admit why he did it?” The Deputy’s wife later asked,

Her husband sat beside him on the porch as they puffed their own reefer, “Nope.”

She passed it to him, held her breath. Fireflies floated past in the haze of heat and smoke, drifting upward together with as they puffed deep, let their thoughts drift.

She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she guessed a woman caused it. Nothing turned men against one another faster than women. Usually too, the more the woman, the worse the effect.

“Must’ve been a helluva woman.”

That ponderous introspection had caught her in line at the grocery store. Had it not, she’d never have drifted off, never seen them.

It wasn’t difficult to sniff out the small town three-lane grocer if you were a crook. It was even easier to sniff out the crooks when you used to be one. The place was small, convenient: a path of least resistance for dregs seeking ground.

Marriage to a Deputy had instilled some instincts in her, for instance the ability to spot the two, out of place men in one-oh-four-degree heat wearing flannel over-shirts, rolled caps, and leaning into themselves rather peculiarly. They were loitering. Waiting for badness, she wagered. Lucky really, if they’d been smarter, she might never have seen them.

But she did. They were waiting and by now, so was she. She angled at the cashier, leaned forward as if to set items on the belt. She spoke fast and low, “The two men over there may be about to rob the store. Press the silent alarm and alert your manager. Now. Go!

Her body stiffened. She was instantly feeling under the register. Then, with a terrified attempt at nonchalance, she stiffly speed-walked for the manager’s office. Careful not to appear too out of place she knocked, but forced her way in. A thought to decry the intrusion was waived at the woman’s terrified stiffness.

“I think we’re being robbed!”


The shouts came then.

The alert had gone out from the store and the Deputy’s wife’s phone near enough together the threat was obvious. The Sheriff himself had been nearby, and the Deputy not far from him. They were first on-scene, caught the guys mid-draw. The guns went up. Before a minute had passed, it was over.

The confusion never had a chance to give way to chaos.

Later, after taking statements and returning to the station, Sheriff asked the Deputy the cause of the robbery attempt.

“Crime of passion, Sheriff,” the Deputy said. “Couple out-of-towners needed cash to fix the car.”

“Uh-huh. Anything else?”

“Sure. I asked ‘em, “Why not ask someone for help?”

“They say anything?”

“Yeah, sure. “Where we come from you don’t ask, ‘cause you know the answer.”

“Hmm…” The Sheriff retorted.

Later on, the Sheriff relayed the conversation to the two men in holding, adding, “I get it. You’re drifters. Prob’ly running from a past no man can begrudge. So I’m gonna’ give you a choice: leave now, never look back and never come back. Or stay on as deputies, and learn to be real, proper men. Flaws and all.”

“Catch is,” the Sheriff admitted forthrightly, “You show signs of regression, I put you down. Clean from here-on. S’all that matters.”
They eyed one another, shrugged. It was the best deal they’d find– especially given no-one else was offering. They took to it, too– even fools know change is good.

Short Story: One of a Kind

Her legs were spread. Feet flat. Knees bent. She lie on her back with her arms out, as if waiting. Rigor mortis had already set in. The blood had left her cheeks and now she was pale, streaked with blue. Her eyes were closed, lips frosted with death’s chafe. Were it not for those damning details, she’d have been mistaken for a sculpture.

Detective “Iron” Ron Beck had seen more than a few beautiful women dead. None were ever so obviously posed. Then again, none had been victims of “The Uptown Lover.” That was what the papers called him, anyhow. It pissed Iron off, made him sick– for a man with a lead-lined gut, that was saying something.

Mostly, it made him sick because the women were all low-esteem types: The first was runner-up in Miss Universe. The second, a first-string replacement for a Prima Ballerina. The Third was an up-and-comer for an “alt-girl” modeling company. She too, was second to the company’s fan-favorite. Iron Ron had no doubts; this girl would prove similar.

All of them had been found like this: in sexual positions, either waiting patiently, presenting, or mid-act. Ron found the latter the worst. The girls’ dead-eyes made their poses morbid. One girl’s eyes had been half open, rolled back, as if mid-orgasm.

The level of obsession required would’ve made Iron’s skin crawl thirty years earlier. Now it was just another detail. He’d seen the most gruesome hack-jobs by latin-gangs, the pavement marks from free-fall suicides. He’d found soured, back-alley drug-deals ended by the most brutal stabbings and shootings. And in all of it, nothing had ever bothered him like this.

It was personal. Too personal. Detachment was a necessity to a murder. Even a murder of passion. The perpetrator saw themselves outside themselves. They watched their actions as if in the body of another. Or they blacked out entirely.

The “Uptown” murders lacked detachment. Attachment was the point. There was a connection here. One so strong it led to the posing. There was no evidence of sexual foul-play either. No necrophilia. No rape. The women all had the slight vaginal tearing common of beautiful, sexually active women. The M-E said they could’ve as easily been caused by by masturbation or tampons.

Forensics had concluded all the deaths were drug-related. All overdoses. The pallor of pooled blood in the extremities confirmed the girls were posed shortly after death. The lack of struggle suggested they’d been drugged unwittingly or willingly. Toxicology confirmed oral ingestion alongside wine. Thus far, the three deaths were officially ODs, death by cardiac or respiratory failure.

But someone caught on in the media. “Uptown Lover” was published. Since then, it’d been riding the headlines. In “Iron” Ron’s mind, they weren’t wrong about the murder. But officially, the girls could just as easily have been coaxed into suicide. In the end, someone they knew well was involved. Someone present. Moments after their deaths, they were posed like sex-dolls, presenting or cumming.

The department psychologists were having a field day. According to them the killer was male, late-30’s, a begrudging desk-jockey, and a closeted homosexual with a fetish for snuff-films. What was more, because of the nature of the overdoses, he likely saw himself as helpful. When the girls confided in him, they opened the door to his manipulation. That allowed him to maneuver them. He had a silver-tongue, they said.

Iron didn’t believe any of it. His gut said not to. Where it went, the rest of him followed. At the moment, it led him from the third body to the OIC: a veteran beat-cop named Matthew Ortega.

Matt had a left-ward lean from a permanent piece of shrapnel in the left side of his back. It was too painful to stand-upright. A junky with a shotgun had tried to waste him from behind at point-blank range. The result was the left-lean and a penchant for having to “sit this one out.”

Ortega didn’t like sitting out. Ever. So he jumped at any chance to help. Right now, Iron needed that.

“Matt, get a me a list of the girl’s closest contacts. All of them. Line them up for questioning and put someone on it. I want the transcripts and vid-footage afterward. Bring ’em to me. ‘Til then, work on getting the same from the other girls.”

Matt obliged by hobbling off toward another blue. Iron left the pop of camera flashes behind, headed home. It wasn’t more than a few hours before he was called back to the station to sift through the evidence Ortega’d procured.

He spent hours sorting it, reviewing the vids. That time had afforded him some better idea of the people the victims surrounded themselves with. Most were sycophants, latent sociopaths. Nothing unusual for Los Angeles. In Iron’s opinion, it would’ve been more worrying if there hadn’t been those types. None of them were family. The latest victim didn’t appear to have any on record.

The image he’d formed rivaled that of the psychologists. In all he’d surmised this much: the killer’s gender was indecipherable, but they were prone to comforting self-conscious women, coveted them. Their occupation allowed for it, that much was obvious by how practiced they needed to be. At that, they certainly were skilled. Silver-tongued. Negotiating was important. Manipulation was necessary to their survival, and useful for killing.

As for the aftermath of the murders, there were still questions. The meticulous positions suggested contradictory opinions. Either the killer was a latent homosexual, wishing to be beautiful like their victims. Or, conversely, the killer thought themselves an artist doing the victims justice. Making them unique, special.

Too many questions remained about the bodies. Iron didn’t allow his analysis to rely on them. It wasn’t necessary anyhow. The “why” was less important than the “how” of their closesness.

He was reading the lists of the victims’ connections when the answer hit. He was up and running like an Olympic sprinter, eyeing his watch. It was near the end of the day. Not near enough to miss his chance though.

Before long, Iron burst through the office-door of talent agent Laura Gainer. A half-dozen uniformed officers followed him. Between he and them, Gainer’s assistant was barking promptly. She was expertly ignored. Gainer was up, out of her seat. Either terrified from the intrusion, or with the thought in mind to fight or flee. Iron’s blue-wall wasn’t about to let either happen.

“Laura Gainer,” Iron said, stepping around behind her. “You are under arrest for the murders of–” He repeated the victims’ names, recited Gainer’s Miranda rights. He was magnetizing the wall of blue to him as he forced Gainer through it for a squad car outside.

They passed through her office toward an elevator, got in to ride it down.

“You seduced and killed four women, Ms. Gainer. First befriending them as a talent agent, you used their repeated failures to maneuver them. Would-be contracts were a farce. Their failures mounted. The women became emotional, vulnerable. You took advantage, convinced them to experiment sexually. Expand their appeal. Then, you used the connection to coerce them into overdosing.”

Beck pushed her from the elevator into the lobby. People gawked at the blue-wall and the cuffed woman. As he was speaking, Iron reasoned the rest out.

“Then, immediately following their last breaths, you began posing them in sexual positions. The reason was simple; you were doing them a service, making them unique at last.”

He shoved Gainer into the back of a squad car. Ortega hobbled over. Beck had asked to meet him there at the precise moment.

Ortega handed over a packet of papers, “Everything you asked for.”

“You read it?”

Ortega nodded. “Checks out.”

The blue-wall finally broke apart and the squad cars outside filed away one-by-one.

Beck watched them go, “I never had a doubt.”

Ortega mirrored his gaze, “How’d you figure it out?”

Beck’s eyes narrowed as Gainer’s car shrank into the distance. “Everyone wishes they were one of a kind. Few are.”

Ortega’s gut churned bile. A corner of his eye twitched. “Hell of a way to go.” His words hung in the air, echoing into the rise and fall of the city’s din.

Short Story: Reel-Gun Blues

Detective Arnold Foster had been on the force near-on twenty years, but nothing had been like this. He’d done his fair share of high-profile cases and seen enough things to make the average uniform retch, but nothing had ever been so rough. He took off his gray fedora and knelt beside the body, tailored trench-coat falling around him to rest on the floor just beyond the pool of blood.

She lie on her side, arms near one another, left hand clutched half-closed as if sleeping. Everything about her was peaceful, as if lying in her own blood with a gut-wound was just another night of beauty sleep. Even her auburn hair had fallen around her pale-skin like a woman sleeping the greatest sleep of her life. Foster wasn’t sure about that, but it would certainly be the longest.

There was nothing unusual around the scene; no marks on the wrists, no broken glass or furniture askew. Nothing had been thrown, or knocked around. There was just her body and a pool of blood. It was still the most difficult thing Foster’d ever forced himself to witness.

Ali was one of the few friends he had left, alongside the now-primary suspect, her husband. Neither one had ever been the angry type. What had kept Foster on such good terms with them was their glowing love that welcomed him to bask in it. He enjoyed it.

But there was no glow now, just pale skin wrapped around coagulated veins and dead organs.

Foster rose from his stance. He shouldn’t be here, his heart said it, his analytical mind said it. There was nothing to find, and he’d been explicitly barred from the case on grounds of personal attachments. He disagreed with that decision and he doubted the Chief himself could have stopped him from coming.

But the Chief wasn’t there, just a group of uniforms, a few forensics squints, and a few reps from the coroner’s office. Even if there’d been something to find, Foster wouldn’t have needed it. The fact that Sten was missing was enough. He’d been the loving husband that stood by Ali through everything. If he wasn’t here, lying in a pool of his own grief, then he was the one responsible. Foster didn’t need any further proof. The door wasn’t forced, the room wasn’t askew; Ali had known her attacker, hadn’t expected her death. If she had, she’d have run, tripped, fallen, knocked over a lamp– left some sign that it wasn’t the man she loved and trusted.

Foster re-fitted his Fedora, and stepped away from the body. He pushed through some uniforms, passed the ambulance and coroner that helped EMTs to remove the gurney, and headed for his unmarked car. Like him, the Ford Sedan was getting on in years, but remained reliable enough not to be cast out. Its turbo-charged police engine had always gotten him from point A to point B, no matter the situation or urgency.

The Sedan was now the one constant in a world of variables. As he slid in and ignited the engine, it agreed with him. They were a package deal, it seemed to say, two old dogs trying their best to keep up and abreast of all the new tricks. The times had changed enough that technology was often their greatest asset and biggest rival, but today both sensed it was unnecessary. Personally, Foster didn’t need a bold repertoire or an extensive case-history to know where he’d find Sten.

When the Ford rolled up to the edge of the pier, Sten’s pickup was already there. Foster could just see him through the back and front windows of the truck, propped backward against the bumper with his hands in his pockets. For a moment, Foster considered leaving, but Ali’s dead body was too prevalent in his mind. Her supple, vibrant skin was too pale, eyes too closed and dead to let him leave.

Foster checked the reel-gun he’d inherited from his father to ensure it was still loaded. Cleaned, oiled, and fired regularly, it was as near to mint condition as an old thirty-eight could be. Part of him want to aim it through the windows separating him from Sten and pull the trigger. Something about Sten’s refusal to acknowledge his presence made him hesitate. It reminded him of the few times he and Sten had talked office-politics or work-business. Sten was always reserved, quiet, only letting out enough not to defy the NDA’s his software company made him sign. He was always honest, straight as a razor, Foster’d liked him for that.

But now he was jagged, crooked enough to have murdered his own wife then run to the one place he knew he’d be found; Why? Why any of it? Why murder his loving wife? Why make it so obvious? Why stand still when he could run, leave Foster in the dust? The old detective had to know, and there was only one route to the truth.

He slid from the sedan and sidled between the bumpers, reel-gun in hand, to approach Sten from the truck’s right.

“You don’t need the gun, old man,” Sten said as he approached. “I’m still the same man you’ve always called a friend.”

Foster stopped just out of arm’s reach, near the front-right fender, “My friends don’t murder people in cold blood, let alone their loving wives.”

“If you think that, you don’t know your friends too well.”

“What the hell’re you talking about, Sten? You killed Ali, your wife, and all you can do’s be a smart-ass about it? What in the hell’s happened to you?”

Sten finally moved, but only his head and neck. It still made Foster tense, just in case his so-called friend had any designs in mind. “Jumpy today,” Sten said blankly. “Why don’t you come over her, take a load off with me?”

Foster’s mouth half-snarled, “You son of a bitch, you think I’m gonna’ risk my neck for–”

“I think,” he interrupted. “You should hear me out. You wanna’ take me in after, fine. You wanna’ blow my brains out on the gravel, fine, but hear me out. You owe me that.”

Foster remained still, it was enough of a sign for Sten, whom turned his head back to the ocean. He was lost in thought for a long moment before he began with a distant vacancy, “Just before you and I met, I was writing software for a government agency connected to DARPA. Someone in the CIA contacted me asking for a meeting. Two months later, I was field-rated and on my first op. Nine months after that, I met Ali. She’d passed all of our screenings, and she believed every word of my lies. Or at least, I thought so.”

He slipped a hand into his inner-jacket pocket. Foster tensed up again. The hand withdrew, clutching a printed, digital photograph between its fingers. A small memory card had been taped to a bottom corner. He set the photo on the hood of his truck, slid it at Foster, and re-pocketed his hand.

Foster craned his neck to eye it and Sten continued, “That photo was taken two-days ago outside the Villa-Nova hotel. You’ll notice Ali meeting a bald man.”

Foster’s eyes confirmed as much, “This going somewhere?”

“Twelve hours ago the CIA informed me that Ali’s file had been forwarded from a contact in Moscow. Her real name is Ivana Kurleynko, an SVR agent sent to spy on the CIA through me. A contract hit was put out on her by the agency, but I got there first.” He finally met Foster’s eyes, his own sharpened by pain. “I… couldn’t let someone else kill the woman I loved. So I came in, and she saw me, smiled her smile, and blinked. I shot her once and left. I’ve been here ever since.”

They were quiet for a moment, only the ocean and distant gulls willing to force themselves on the scene. They created a background of white-noise that infected Foster’s heart.

He swallowed hard, “How’m I supposed to believe this?”

“All the information you need is on that card, Arnold.”

“You understand I need to take you in ’til this can be verified,” he said, only half believing him.

“Just make sure they don’t try to take retribution on me, you know?”

Unfortunately, Foster did. Wife killers were second only to child molesters when it came to inmate hatred.

“I’ll do what I can,” Foster said, still not sure what he believed.

Sten stepped around the truck. Foster’s followed, pocketing the photo. The two men stopped at either of the front doors and their eyes met again.

“You know,” Sten said. “I guess it’s true what they say, “You never really know someone.”

Foster thought about it, but Sten slipped into the Sedan and took the thought with. He ended up in a mired confusion… just another day of reel-gun blues.

Bonus Short Story: Just Another Day

The horizon was a mix of neon and white with the occasional yellow of an old incandescent or fluorescent bulb in the quilt-work of high-rises. Their exteriors were either gleaming, freshly cleaned cement and steel, or dilapidated brick-work, soot-covered from decades of smog. From a distant enough overhead view, sections of the city-streets would be plastered with headlights from vehicles whose owners had yet to make the switch to flying craft. Only the police craft would stick out, their red and blue flashing in groups or singles.

At one corner drugstore with them, was Detective Arnold Rhein. It wasn’t a stretch to call Rhein a veteran of the force. Indeed, he was well-known by most in the precinct. Even for a brief while, by the Press, when he uncovered a Mayoral-aide’s murder that implicated the Mayor in a scandalous conspiracy.

Those days were long gone now. Rhein was near the end of his rope. He’d prematurely grayed decades ago, before cars flew. Now steel-haired, a permanent, salt and pepper tinted his five o’clock shadow. He’d often scratch it to think, infect the air with sand-paper sounds of nails on scruff.

Presently, sand-paper sounded in Armen’s Corner Drugstore. Rhein squatted at the feet of a fresh stiff. The body wasn’t even cold yet. Obvious signs of a struggle adorned the counter in over turned beef-jerky stacks, scattered candy-bars and other miscellanea.

Armed robbery gone awry. The stiff’s gut-wound said as much. It wasn’t precise or intentional. The bruise formed along the bridge of the stiff’s nose, through its crook and to his forehead, said he’d been headbutted and the gun went off. A trickle of blood that he’d made no attempt to wipe away said he was in shock or dead too soon after for it to gain purchase in his mind.

Rhein straightened to survey the scene better. Armed robbery gone wrong. That was it. Simple. Nothing else stuck out. A few, errant bills had been left behind in the drawer. Small bills, not worth risking the time once the sirens started blaring.

The upstairs neighbor had called the police, come down to check on the clerk and found him dead. The old woman with curlers in her hair was wrapped in a bathrobe assaulting to even the most deadened senses. She was a neon-teal beacon with a powdered-white face from hastily glomed on make-up. The curlers created a laurel around her head of clashing, hot pink.

Rhein looked away. He’d been on the job a lot of years, enough to discern two things; this would end up as another unsolved murder, and that woman had no sense of taste. He strolled back across the drugstore, slipped out for a uniform in charge of the scene. He’d already yielded to Rhein’s experience, acting as middle man to keep the blues orderly while the Detective did his thing.

“Detective,” the uniform said with a nod.

“Officer,” Rhein began. “Call the coroner. There’s nothing here. Typical smash and grab gone wrong. The only way we’d’ve caught the guy is if we’d seen him running out with the cash.”

The officer seemed to understand. He flipped his little memo book closed. Rhein stepped around him and through a line of cruisers to his unmarked, four-wheel car. He’d never cared much for the fliers. They handled like refrigerators, big and bulky with no grace, and undeserving of the power of flight. He preferred the old gas-guzzling, air-polluters he’d known his whole life.

But that was the nature of things now. The old got older until they ended up stiffs, took their ways with ’em to make way for young and new.
He drove on through the city: the future was progress that had no place for him. Traffic was horrendous, but better than before fliers. Everything was different– yet somehow, the same. He wasn’t sure when the change had started, but instinct and memory said somewhere between wives two and three. Now Carol, wife four, was looking to get the long end of the stick. The others hadn’t been so fortunate. Rhein had been “married to the job” before Carol, a cop in his prime, then a detective with something to prove. The relationships could’ve never hoped to survive.

Carol had a detective nearing retirement though. Rhein wasn’t even willing to take the extra effort anymore of double-checking things. He made a call, and it was over. Nose to the ground was for greenies that hadn’t learned the cyclical nature of the city and crime. They were still too young to have the skills that allowed him a lone glance to make a call. Only time and experience could allow for that. Rhein had both, wasn’t sure he wanted either anymore.

To any other Detective, especially a greenie, he’d have seemed a burn out. The truth was paradoxically nearer and further than most knew. Rhein wasn’t a burn-out in the usual sense, he was merely worn down. His mind had gone from the razor-sharpness of a freshly honed blade to the dull, age-worn metal of one eons older. Forty years of work had worn it down.

His unmarked car rolled up to his tenement on the city’s outer-edge. He put it in park and killed the engine. For a moment, he sat there staring, watching cars and fliers pass on the road and in the sky.

The world had changed, and not for the better. His world, the one he’d come from anyway, was smaller, more tightly-knit. People had worked for one another, and with one another, all to make life better. Personal gain had been the side note then, societal gain the main passage. Now everyone was out for themselves. The world was too big. Cities had tripled, quadrupled in size to accommodate the ever-growing global census. With them rose violent crime rates until one could no longer hope to make a difference, no matter how hard they tried. At least, if they could, it took a technique Rhein didn’t know or could never learn.

The old guard had to inexorably resign, move on, fade into history to become a forgotten relic. Why not start here, with himself? He saw no a reason not to.

A few moments later, he exited the elevator to the squalor of his tenement’s hallway, pushed his way into the meager apartment he’d afforded on a cop’s salary. He found Carol in bed, covers up to her chin. He went about quietly undressing, slipped into bed.

She stirred, “How was work?”

He pulled her in to his bare chest, stared emptily at the ceiling, “Just another day.”